Gone Girl is a 2014 film based on the novel of the same name by Gillian Flynn who actually wrote the adapted screenplay. The film is directed by David Fincher who’s pretty much a perfect fit for Gillian’s story; her narrative benefits greatly from Fincher’s trademark precision and bleak atmosphere but I think he brings something just as valuable to the table in his reading of the film’s structure. I’d never seen a story that traversed three different terrains, at least not this well.
It starts fundamentally a mystery and then it becomes this absurdist thriller and it finally kind of becomes satire that I hadn’t seen before.
I can see how it could come off poorly within our current context — specifically concerning the idea that a woman would lie about being raped or sexually assaulted. I cringe at the idea that this film might paint a picture of a world where women flippantly accuse men of sexual assault. That is not remotely my intent. That overall theme is not the main concern of this essay, but I did think it would be the responsible thing to at least address it in some way.
Nick and Amy Dunne have been married for five years. Their relationship started off with them as something of a perfect couple. They are fun and clever and make each other laugh but their marriage is in shambles as the film opens with Nick venting to his sister about his marriage.
So is Amy gonna do one of those anniversary treasure hunts?
You mean the forced march designed to prove an oblivious and uncaring asshole or husband is?
We even learn later on that his intentions upon arriving back home is to ask Amy for a divorce on their anniversary which doesn’t pan out because what he actually finds is a crime scene and that his wife is missing. The film deftly cuts back and forth between flashbacks chronicling Nick and Amy’s relationship and the present trauma leading to what is possibly my favourite cut in the entire film. The proposal, the ring, the kiss.
And then the night wasn’t so bad anymore.
Nick calls the police search, parties are formed and the media quickly gets involved because Amy isn’t just anybody. She’s “Amazing Amy”, the object of a line of popular children’s books that her parents authored, essentially making her America’s sweetheart. Things start falling apart for Nick almost immediately as he struggles under the media spotlight and a dizzying amount of incriminating circumstances start to pile up around him.
In April, you bumped up Amy’s life insurance to 1.2 million.
Yes I did. That was her idea she wanted me to.
You filed the paperwork.
Because she told me to!
A gun shows up in the evidence.
She wanted a gun, said it needed to be small so she can keep close.
Things really turn south when we learn that he’s been cheating on Amy with a student of his and that Amy was actually pregnant at the time of her disappearance.
Amy is alive and well, having framed Nick for her own murder which she staged, while knowing full well that if he’s convicted he’ll get the lethal injection because she fabricated a diary for the police to find. That covers her fear of Nick, faked her own pregnancy, drained her own blood and is now hiding away at a campground watching the news unfold.
I’d sleep better with a gun.
Amy hates Nick. She hates that he’s not the perfect guy she met all those years ago. She hates his laziness and distance and she hates his affair, which unbeknownst to Nick, she found out about months ago. Yikes. Through a series of clues designed to rub the whole thing in his face, Nick figures out what’s going on as pressure from the media and police builds. He hires Tanner Bolt, an attorney who specializes in defending men who are accused of killing their wives and starts to uncover more of Amy’s dark past, regarding her relationships with men.
She said I raped her first-degree. Felony rape.
Did you do it?
Amy befriends a woman at the campground she’s staying at who ends up robbing Amy when she sees the money belt that Amy has been carrying leaving Amy penniless. In absolute desperation, she calls up her wealthy stalker highschool ex-boyfriend Desi who takes her to his lake house. Desi has always been obsessed with Amy and he’s clearly trolling himself that Amy wants to stay with him.
Nick, whose situation is national news at this point, schedules an interview on a big talk show to admit to his affair and to publicly admit his failings as a husband. All this makes it clear that he did not kill his wife.
Let me be clear, just because I’m not a murderer, doesn’t make me a good guy. I’m not a good guy I was a bad husband to a great wife. I broke the vow that I made to her. Amy I love you you’re the best person I’ve ever known and I’ve taken myself to the woodshed for the way that I’ve treated you and if you come back I promise I will spend every day make it up to you. I will be the man that I promised you I would be.
Indeed, Amy does see Nick in the interview and recognizes the Nick she fell in love with all that time ago. Now she knows exactly what she has to do and who she has to kill in order to get back to him. Amy stages her own kidnapping by Desi and after seducing him, she slits his throat with a box cutter while they’re in bed together and drives herself back home to Nick. She convinces the police and the media that Desi kidnapped her yet reveals to Nick her real actions.
Amy demands that they discuss this in the shower so that there’s no risk of Nick having a wire on him. Nick has every intention of exposing Amy for her crimes and plans to do so while living with her, absolutely terrified by her insanity. To make our lives that much better, Amy commits one more act of manipulation. Homegirl has impregnated herself with one of Nick’s samples from a fertility clinic. Realizing that he has no choice but to stay with her, irregardless of his own wishes. If he just leaves, he’s abandoning his child to be raised by a psychopath and if he tries to fight for custody or press charges, she’d be cray-cray enough to kill him.
No choice in the matter. Nick stays, and plays the part.
She can summarize each act with a couple of questions. Mystery, did Nick kill his wife. If not, who did? Thriller, how is Nick going to convince the world that he’s framed? What is the full extent of Amy’s plan? Satire, isn’t this kind of what most marriages are like? The satire is laid on thick. However, it works.
When two people love each other and can’t make that work that’s the real tragedy.
Some have balked at how patently ridiculous the ending is and that makes sense if you don’t see the satire. This is not a crime drama anymore that’s why we get shots like this below, as if we’re looking at something out of Gone With The Wind.
It took me a few viewings to realize just how funny the third act of this film is. Lots of dark comedy at play here with how Nick must resign himself to live with this monster that is his wife.
We’re partners in crime.
That question I stated earlier about most marriages being like this might seem cynical or extreme, but Gone Girl is using extremes to highlight a problem that has permeated our society for some time. We learn from teachers. We learn from parents. We learn from siblings. We learn how to present the best version of ourselves, edit and then we go out into the world as adults to essentially, mate. We couple and we seduce people with this projection of ourselves and are often completely oblivious to the fact that the other person is doing that too. There comes a point where one or more of the people who’s entered into this contract says “I can’t keep it up. I can’t. I’m not interested in being the man of your dreams or the woman of your dreams anymore. I don’t know what to tell you. This film is about the resentment that might engender.”
Gone Girl put off me a bit by the dialogue in Nick and Amy’s flashback scenes. It’s full of all the glib cuteness that you’d find in the rough draft of a Gilmore Girls script. It took a second viewing for me to realize that the film was intentionally making the audience roll their eyes.
Even though Amy’s diary is largely fabricated, she says that these early sections are accurate and it’s appropriate to what we know about the Dunn’s and more importantly, to what we know about the larger problem Gone Girl is addressing.
Here are these two people who write quizzes and articles for men’s and women’s magazines, trying to impress each other and being totally disingenuous in the process. This is the façade, the game that Fincher shows us. An interview with Rosemund Pike says just as much.
We’ve become as a nation very adept at transformations and we have all the tools. We have, you know, cameras at our fingertips we’re very aware suddenly of everybody, not just actors and models. They are all suddenly aware of, you know, their best angles and things and they’re editing their lives to be more enviable as they present their photos on Facebook and what does narcissism mean for relationships of marriage? It means that instead of just being who you are in a selfless way, you’re requiring the other person to project the image of yourself that you want to put across and that is very very different.
In our culture, romantic relationships and marriages by extension are built on a charade, at least initially. A mask dates a mask. We have no idea how to deal with the fact that we’re all pretty messed up, self-absorbed people and that years of living together will bring that out. Instead of bearing with one another in honesty about our brokenness, so often we wage war with one another and either implode or carry on for decades in misery.
Maybe we stay together for the kids or just the communal pat on the back the problem persists. Instead of trying to change ourselves and learn to love we just…
…resent each other and try to control each other it cause each other pain.
These are extremely basic marriage counseling principles, obviously many of us are very quick to ignore them withal. Is Gone Girl critical of the institution of marriage itself, or just the marriages that perpetuate these problems? I could see cases being made for either but I know that as a romantic, I find the themes of Gone Girl essential, especially in an age where blatant narcissism is so commonly accepted as normal. Gone Girl is a blunt instrument at times and yet I think a lot of viewers still misunderstand it as just a thriller that gets weird at the end. This is why Fincher’s structure is essential to really understand what Gone Girl is doing. If you’re looking for a well-constructed mystery or a meticulous thriller you’ll find it here but don’t miss the satire in all its extremities, reflecting our worst tendencies back to us, giving us a chance to identify and address them.
Best understood through the lens of a strict three act structure, in which each act plays out within its own unique genre. The final act is the most vital to understand, since it is the most commonly maligned among the film’s critics. This way of looking at the film elevated the whole experience immensely for me.